Winning tip: The Beauchamp Arms, Gloucestershire
In the historic Forest of Dean village of Dymock is the Beauchamp Arms, one of the UK’s few parish-owned pubs. Nearby there are several walks, including the Poets’ Paths celebrating the area’s association with first world war poets such as Edward Thomas and his friend the US poet Robert Frost. On the 10-mile circular Daffodil Way, which winds through peaceful rolling farmland hills punctuated by black and white timbered buildings. In the past, the daffodils, which carpet local fields and ancient woodlands, were handpicked and sent to London by train to be sold at markets. Seeing golden swathes of flowers lifted our spirits as we savoured a refreshing glass of local cider in the early spring sunshine outside the pub.
Llanthony Priory Inn, Brecon Beacons
The secluded and beautiful Vale of Ewyas, seven miles from Abergavenny, is a magnet for hikers, horse riders and mountain bikers. Few may realise, as they arrive at the picturesque, well-preserved ruins of 12th-century Llanthony Priory, on the eastern edge of the national park, that they can also slake their thirst here. The cosy bar of the adjoining Grade I-listed building, the Priory Inn (formerly monks’ quarters), is in the vaulted medieval undercroft. Guest ales appear regularly. The Felinfoel Double Dragon tasted divine after our strenuous walk.
The Crown Hotel, Dumfries & Galloway
This gastro pub/hotel sits on the waterfront in the little village of Portpatrick in south-west Scotland. If you love fresh fish, this is the place for you. Before popping in for lunch, work up an appetite by going for a gentle stroll around the harbour or, if you feel more energetic, take one of the cliff walks either side of the village.
Gunton Arms, Norfolk
Set within a centuries-old 1,000-acre deer park, this idyllic, upscale affair with rooms is a family-friendly treat for all, boasting fantastic food such as Blythburgh belly pork with apple and pea shoots (£7), courtesy of ex-Mark Hix chef Stuart Tattersall. The Yorkshire puds are to die for, the surroundings are stunning, and there’s lots of room for the young ’uns to play in. Oh, and be sure to check out the art in the loos!
Finch’s Arms, Rutland
Overlooking Rutland Water, this is a pub with a gorgeous terraced garden. You can cycle or walk around the lake (17 miles) before dropping into this 17th-century hostelry. Bar food includes Lincolnshire sausage and onion gravy on ciabatta, but if it’s more of a lunchtime outing, the two-course set menu, including dishes such as deep-fried cod with tomato salsa followed by Lincolnshire poacher with water biscuits and homemade chutney, at £16.50, is high quality. With its flagstone floor, beams and roaring fire, the bar ticks all the country pub boxes and is a great place to enjoy a pint of locally brewed Grainstore Rutland bitter.
Turf Hotel, Devon
Only accessible by bike, boat or trusty shoe leather, the Turf sits on its own slice of heaven on the Exe estuary. Camp in the expansive beer garden, watch the estuary tide ebb and flow, or stop off for a well-earned rest after cycling the Exe trail. If you’re hungry, in summer you can feast on the Turf’s BBQ or bring your own bangers and cook your own. This gem of a pub near Exminster is well worth tracking down for a tipple and some good, honest, locally sourced pub grub.
Pandora Inn, Cornwall
The cosy open fires, exposed beams and excellent food provided a welcome respite from the wild Cornish wind howling outside on a cold winter’s evening. In summer, the calm Restronguet Creek provides a relaxing backdrop for enjoying a pint of Cornish cider on the pub’s pontoon. If you’ve had one too many ciders, a water taxi is a fun way to return to the nearby town of Falmouth.
Tredegar Arms, Gwent
This is a beautiful country pub in Bassaleg, in a stunning building surrounded by gorgeous flowers. The Tredegar Arms has a beer garden complete with wooden benches, and a children’s play area. The food is classic (mains from £8.50) and delicious and can be perfectly paired with any of the real ales served (including Cwrw from rural south Wales brewery Evan Evans). Also, if you sign up for its newsletter, you can get £5pp off your food bill. If you stroll just a few minutes up the road you come to a wonderful country walk complete with family-friendly farms. It’s a great day out for everyone.
The Locks Inn, Norfolk
There are only two ways to get to this pub on the river Waveney – by driving down an A road, moving on to a smaller road, then an even smaller road and then walking down a footpath for five minutes; or by boat on the Broads. This adds to the charm of this Geldeston pub that until recently only ran on a generator. As to be expected, there are good local ales too, plus live music and storytellers.
Highwayman Inn, Oxfordshire
If you stumble on this pub in the village of Checkendon and order the homemade corned beef (nothing like the tinned stuff) and piccalilli (also homemade), you will fall under a spell that will compel you to go back and try everything else this wonderful place has to offer. The husband-and-wife team who own and run it (he’s the chef; she’s front-of-house) combine the best of country pub (good ales, welcoming atmosphere and roaring fire) with the best of English food (Sunday roasts, jam roly poly). Locally sourced produce (excellent beef joints) cooked with passion and real knowledge about what tastes good. Well worth seeking out.
Cat I’th Well, West Yorkshire
Locally known as the Catty, this small country pub is in the wilds of West Yorkshire. If your satnav plays up you may never find the place – in a dingly dell five miles from Halifax. The valley itself hides another secret, the magical world of Castle Carr … a now ruined, mostly demolished faux medieval hall built by a wealthy mill owner. The oak panelling from the house is now to be found in the Catty by the impressive fireplace. As you’d expect in God’s county, the ale (Timothy Taylor varieties) is kept to perfection, and there’s pub grub on offer, too. Have a look at the small, isolated graveyard on a beautiful 20-minute walk into the valley. It houses a poignant reminder of the area’s grim industrial past – it will leave a lasting impression.
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The Bottle Inn, Dorset
We discovered this 16th-century thatched inn on a rambling holiday a few years ago, not knowing its whacky secret. It has all the ingredients of a typical country pub: warm welcome, changing selection of real ales and ciders, good food, inglenook fireplace, skittle alley. But it is in the pretty garden that the Bottle stands out from the crowd: it hosts the World Nettle Eating championships, started in 1997, after a bet between two local farmers. Now dozens of people compete to eat as many two-feet-long stalks of nettles in an hour as possible! This year it is scheduled for 24 June (to be confirmed).
Malt Shovel, North Yorkshire
What a wonderful surprise. On the website, there are maps for two countryside walks of around four miles that start and end in this charming rustic pub in Brearton. You’ll be welcomed with a warm greeting and scrumptious food. We all had a Sunday lunch (from £11.95), the best we’ve had in Yorkshire. We devoured large portions – which we were particularly grateful for, after a long and muddy cold walk.
Noah’s Ark, West Sussex
Regular games of cricket take place on Lurgashall’s village green right outside: team captains sometimes drop into the pub when a team is a man short – to varying responses. Hoppy Sussex beers and delicious lamb stews or fish pies (mains from £13 but a wide choice of bar snacks and starters) give players and customers sustenance as the game and socialising in the beer garden go on under the westering sun.
The Square and Compass, Dorset
It’s a pub. It’s a museum. It’s in a place called Worth Matravers. There are local beers. There is stodgy potato pie on the menu and Cornish pasties, with as much brown sauce and ketchup as you can handle. And crisps. And that’s your lot. There’s a sloping garden with huge boulders and views over the Isle of Purbeck’s Jurassic coast, fields of cows, the sea. There are fossils. There are fireplaces. There are some stuffed animals. There is often the most incredible live music. Above all, there are people. And dogs. And each and every one of them sit there in the perfect, joyous, self-hugging knowledge that they have discovered the most wonderful pub in existence. And that they will be back very soon.